Ellie Wildermuth's La Cañada Flintridge home went up in flames in October 2009, but on Sunday, it was the site of a party toasting those who came through for her family in difficult times.
“I decided all the people that were so helpful needed to see what they had done,” Wildermuth said.
The blaze struck on a Monday, Wildermuth said, as the Station fire was still burning up nearby hillsides. She and her husband, Bob, had been evacuated from their home near the La Cañada Flintridge Country Club and were visiting their grandchildren in Redondo Beach when a malfunctioning spa heater sent flames through the house, destroying nearly everything.
Wildermuth was stunned, but set about rebuilding.
“The closest time I came to crying was when I learned one of the fireman had burned his hand,” Wildermuth said. “You do what you have to do.”
The couple spent the next two years living in a rental home. Friends and neighbors rallied around her with home-cooked meals, hospitality and even kitchen items to replace what was lost.
Seventeen months after the fire, reconstruction began.
Wildermuth, a former La Cañada High School teacher, became known for giving homemade cookies several times a week to crew members working on her home. She made a scrapbook of the reconstruction process.
In mid-February, the Wildermuths finally moved back home.
On Sunday, everyone from her contractors, painters, book club members and Cañada Auxiliary of Professionals — volunteers associated with the Assistance League of Flintridge — was invited to celebrate.
Wildermuth's 10-year-old granddaughter, Kiera Deak, 10, led guests through each room, pointing out what was saved and what was new.
Among the saved items were the rocking chair Wildermuth pushed for her son Kurt and daughter Gretchen when they were infants, a handful of paintings, a Matryoshka nesting doll and a grandfather clock.
New features added during the renovation included Wildermuth's first walk-in closet, a buffet counter in the kitchen and etchings of irises on her shower wall.
“This is her favorite spot in the house,” Kiera said of the walk-in pantry, where stacks of cookies were piled high.
Today Wildermuth sees the fire as a blessing, as much as a curse.
“It was a wonderful experience, even though it was a gut-wrenching experience,” Wildermuth said of the renovation process. “I was perfectly happy. It was just fine [before]. This is just a dream.”